UPDATE APRIL 2020: In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, we now recommend that our clients attend all hearings via phone or videoconference to help ensure their safety and the safety of others. More information.
At least once a month, I receive a phone call from a client who, for whatever reason, feels they cannot attend their disability hearing in-person.
While we can always request that a claimant attend a hearing via phone, that request is denied about 90% of the time, and even making the request does no favors with a judge.
Most judges simply want to see claimants in front of them to get some idea of their condition first hand. This can give a judge a better idea of their limitations and whether they are exaggerating their symptoms.
Judges have wide discretion in granting phone hearings, and can be reluctant to do so in even the most extreme circumstances.
I had one case in which a claimant had a well-documented history of severe heart problems. He was in a nursing home with no transportation to the hearing office. The judge in his case still wouldn’t allow the claimant to appear by telephone.
On the other hand, I had another claimant with little documentation about respiratory problems. Due to these issues, she told the judge that she didn’t feel comfortable traveling to the disability hearing.
In that case, the judge did let her attend by telephone, but that was a rare occurrence.
Typically, the most common reason claimants ask for phone hearings is lack of transportation.
While many clients feel this is a good reason why they can’t appear for a hearing, judges very rarely grant phone hearings for this reason. Most seem to believe that because claimants receive notice of a hearing 75 days in advance, they can make some sort of arrangements to get there in that time period.
In fact, the only circumstances in which judges usually grant phone hearings are if a client is incarcerated or has recently moved several hours away. Even if the client has moved, the judge still might require that they attend via video teleconference from another Social Security office.
So, while your attorney can always request a phone hearing on your behalf, keep in mind that it’s unlikely the judge will allow this, and it’s in your best interest to do whatever you can to make it to your disability hearing.